“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein
Look, hear, touch, smell, taste. There is no better place for children to explore their senses than in nature. A sensory walk becomes a journey of discovery for our nursery children as we lead them on a sensory scavenger hunt.
Our first stop is the beekeeper’s house where the bee becomes our tool for exploring the sense of sight. The children look through a prismatic lens that resembles the fractured vision of bees. We encourage them to look around and to think about how the insect’s vision differs from ours. It soon becomes apparent that edges and details are blurred and the world becomes an explosion of colours. We wonder whether the bees have a favourite colour; the ground around us is a carpet of white and yellow chamomile and mauve mallow. We discover that most flowers around us are shades of yellow or purple and white: the thyme and oregano growing on the hillside and all the sweet-smelling flowers in the vegetable garden. The plants use colour to attract the bees, dressed in their favorite shades.
To get a closer look and a different perspective, the children look at the ground around them through magnifying glasses. They inspect the flowers; they discover ants coming and going; they hone in on details they might otherwise overlook; a microscopic world of mini-beasts that see the world from a different angle.
We have now reached the top of the hil, with the great pine above us, and the vineyards dropping beneath us as far as our homestead and the neighboring farms. We ask the children to find a comfortable spot to lie down. The ground is rough and dry and the grasses crackle underfoot. For some children (and adults) this goes beyond their comfort zone. But this is one of the things we love to do: to encourage the children to take that extra leap of faith and try something new. This group needs little coaxing as they take a friend by the hand and lie down, two-by-two, beneath an olive tree, between two rows of vines, in the shade of the pine. As everyone quiets down, with eyes closed, we listen: first to the sounds inside our bodies, our beating hearts, our breath. Then beyond: a blade of grass brushing against our ear, the wind whispering through the trees. The children start to shout out sounds that they hear: birds chirping in the trees, a cockerel crowing in the distance, the hum of an engine- a car on the road or a plane overhead. We hear a pony neighing and the jingling of bells from the goats being herded along the forest road. As we shut out all other senses, our hearing becomes sharper, like that of an owl, hunting in the dark.
We stand up and shake off the drowsiness which has swept over us like a blanket. We ask the children which part of their body they use to touch with. The answer is almost always: hands. We point out that, though we use our hands to hold things, they are covered with skin and this is what we feel touch with. Bunnytail (Lagurus, Λάγουρος ο ωοειδής) grows in abundance here, its soft, fluffy awn provides a gentle brush for the children to stroke the back of their necks, their ankles and shins, their cheeks and their noses, noticing the sense of touch all over their skin.
We are now by the ponies, we go over to stroke them and feel their fur beneath our fingers, their bristly mane, the hot air from their nostrils and their wet tongues as they eat carrots from our hands.
We have set up a sensory path, and the children walk over twigs and branches, climb over hay bales and tread on pebbles, sensing the different textures on the bottom of their feet.
We give them pieces of charcoal and tracing paper to make rubbings of the different textures they walked over and others that they find around them.
As we approach the vegetable garden, the smell of manure and compost wafts up from the piles and into our noses, mixed in with tangy smells from the chicken coup and duck pond. A sensory overload for some! As we move into the garden and we brush against the herbs, new, stronger smells are released: lemon balm and the intoxicating smell of valerian, the familiar mint, thyme and oregano. We rub our hands on leaves and sniff our fingers. We bury our faces in plants, breathing in all there is to smell.
Last stop: the heart of the vegetable garden, our tasting table.
We taste something sour; something bitter; something salty and something sweet.
On our tasting trays are lemon slices, bitter almonds from our tree, beetroot leaves that are surprisingly salty from the sodium they absorb from the soil. To finish off, we have a taste of honey from our bees, which brings us full circle on our sensory scavenger hunt.
The walk back through the forest path awakens all the senses at once, sights, sounds, textures, smells and tastes in abundance.